India’s Relations with West Asia: What Patterns and What Future?

India's interests and capabilities extend well beyond the subcontinent. This series explores the geopolitical dimensions, economic ties, transnational networks, and other aspects of India's links with the Middle East (West Asia) -- a region that plays a vital role in India's economy and its future.


 

Writing in the July/August 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, C. Rajan Mohan observed:

After more than a half century of false starts and unrealized potential, India is now emerging as the swing state in the global balance of power. In the coming years, it will have an opportunity to shape outcomes on the most critical issues of the twenty-first century: the construction of Asian stability, the political modernization of the greater Middle East, and the management of globalization.[1]

Almost exactly ten years later, the Pew Research Center reported the results of a public opinion poll conducted in India, which found that over two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents acknowledge that their country plays a more important role in global affairs today compared to a decade ago.[2] India’s increased standing and positive reputation in the world, which is a source of pride for its citizens, stems primarily from the country's economic progress over the past two decades, including notable strides forward in tackling extreme poverty. 

India today is the world’s third-largest economy in per capita purchasing power (PPP) terms. The cash crunch impact of the government's demonetization in November 2016 is expected to ebb; the Indian economy has strong growth prospects.[3] According to the Economic and Social Survey for Asia and the Pacific 2016, “India’s economy is projected to sustain a 7.6 per cent growth rate in both fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18.”[4] In addition to having emerged as a major trading and resource-consuming nation, India has expanded its naval capabilities and thus has become a credible global military power. As one of only three Asian countries and only ten in the world to maintain aircraft carriers, India now has the ability to project power far beyond its immediate sub-region.

Although Indian policymakers are understandably focused on domestic challenges and priorities, they nonetheless seem determined to raise India’s profile internationally. Addressing the Heads of Indian Missions in February 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted them to shed old mindsets and to “help India position itself in a leading role, rather than just a balancing force, globally.”[5] Delivering the 21st IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore five months later, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar reaffirmed the Indian government’s commitment to “shoulder greater responsibility,” adding that “India engages the world with greater confidence and assurance.”[6]

To be sure, India’s economic growth has been neither linear nor uniform. The country continues to face huge challenges on its path to prosperity and to becoming a “leading power.”[7] Alleviating poverty and hunger, and dealing with Pakistan are but two such challenges. Furthermore, Indian foreign policy has yet to break decisively from its Nehruvian moorings. Yet, India's accomplishments in the economic and military spheres are nonetheless impressive. And Indian diplomacy under the Modi government arguably has been more pragmatic, proactive and self-confident than ever.[8]   

The growth of India’s power and standing, and of its active diplomacy can be seen in its renewed focus on the Middle East (West Asia).[9] Acknowledging that India’s “footprint” in the region has been “relatively autonomous of strategic calculation,”[10] Indian policymakers recognize the need to develop a holistic engagement strategy, one that seeks both to strengthen economic ties and to institutionalize long-term security cooperation.

Against the backdrop of these developments, the essays in this series examine the geopolitical dimensions, economic ties, transnational networks, and other aspects of India's links with the Middle East (West Asia) — a region that plays a vital role in India's economy and its future.


Mar 07, 2017
India’s Relations with West Asia: A New Era Dawns
Ranjit Gupta
This essay, which launches the MAP series on India’s relations with the Middle East (West Asia), delineates the extraordinary transformation of India’s deeply fraught relations with the region into, arguably, India’s most satisfying set of external relationships.

Mar 09, 2017
Whither India-Gulf Strategic Ties?
N. Janardhan
This essay explores the future of India-Gulf ties in all spheres and some out-of-the-box security dynamics, especially the possibility of evolving an alternative security mechanism in the Gulf. It specifically highlights the opportunities and challenges for Asian countries, especially India, in the quest for a new collective security architecture and stability in the region.

Mar 14, 2017
An Indian Diplomatic Initiative to Promote West Asian Security
Talmiz Ahmad
This essay explores the rationale, modalities and prospects for a constructive diplomatic by China and India — two rising powers, both with significant equities in the region and no historical baggage — to help break this cycle.

 

Mar 16, 2017
Redefining the Drivers of India-G.C.C. Economic Relations
Girijesh Pant
Against the backdrop of the global geo-economic shift from West to East, India and its G.C.C. counterparts can, and should, seize the opportunity to recalibrate and reshape their economic relations. This essay discusses how the adoption of a value chain approach and its application to the healthcare high-tech digital service sectors.

Mar 21, 2017
India's Strategic Vision about West Asia and Its Limitations
Anwar Alam 
The discourse of Non-Alignment continues to shape the political culture of the Indian establishment’s strategic thinking in the field of foreign policy, notwithstanding the decline of Gandhian-Nehruvian moralism and increasing adaptation to the culture of power-centered realism in recent years. This essay shows that gradualism and risk avoidance remain deeply embedded features of India’s conduct of external relations, including its relations with West Asia.   

Mar 23, 2017
India and Egypt: Economic Reconstruction and Stabilization
Sameena Hameed
Six years after the fossilized authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak was swept from power by a tide of popular discontent, Egypt continues to face a multitude of economic and other challenges. This essay discusses the role that India has played, and could play in helping set Egypt’s economy on a more stable footing while broadening and deepening the bilateral relationship.

Mar 28, 2017
Enhancing India-Oman Economic Engagement: Four Promising Initiatives
Faisal Ahmed and Anurag Soni
India and Oman are maritime neighbors linked by history and culture. Muscat, the modern-day capital of Oman, has been a strategic nodal point of trade and exchange for centuries. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1953, India and the Sultanate of Oman have developed robust economic relations and people-to-people contacts. This article discusses four promising areas of cooperation that could drive the momentum of bilateral economic engagement. 

Mar 30, 2017
Locating Syria in India’s Diplomacy toward West Asia 
Tsupokyemla
India has sought to continue its five-decade long cordial relationship with Syria despite the conflict raging there, and has been providing muted support for Bashar al-Assad’s government. However, as the Syrian conflict has dragged on, it has become increasingly clear that the conflict in Syria is the epicenter of the tremors that are shaking the region, placing India’s own national interests at risk. This essay examines the arc of India’s policy toward the Syrian crisis, within the context of the broader thrust of Indian foreign policy toward West Asia under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Apr 04, 2017
India-Israel at 25: Defense Ties
Nicolas Blarel
India has become Israel’s largest arms export market in the world over the last decade (replacing China); and Israel has become one of India’s largest arms supplier. Why did India develop a strong military partnership with a country it had ignored for 42 years? What can explain the development of defense ties in spite of limited political leadership involvement over the past decade? Finally, what are the prospects for defense relations as India grows to become one of the world’s largest defense importer? This essay answers these questions by providing an account of the evolution of Indo-Israeli defense cooperation over the past 25 years.

Apr 06, 2017
Protecting India’s interests in the Middle East: Militancy and Non-state Actors
Kabir Taneja
This essay discusses the threat that ISIS has posed to India, which has significant stakes in the Gulf but remains an ambivalent presence in the region. The future trajectory of the world’s largest democracy’s relations with the Middle East remains a grey area, but one that in the future, could become a defining relationship for global security.

Apr 11, 2017
‘Linking West’ in ‘Unsettled Times’: India-G.C.C. Trade Relations
John Calabrese
Economic and trade relations have been the most dynamic and significant component of the fundamental changes that have taken place in India's relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.) countries since the early 1990s. As a consequence, the Gulf has become of vital strategic importance for India in terms of energy security, trade, investment, and remittances. This essay discusses the contours of India’s trade relations with the G.C.C. countries, including the contributions they have made to India’s economic ascent and the scope for their further development.

Apr 25, 2017
India-Saudi Arabia Relations: New Bilateral Dynamics
Zakir Hussain 
This essay discusses the progressive development of India-Saudi Arabia relations. It looks first at the landmark visits that have laid the foundation and supplied the momentum for progress in the relationship. The essay focuses on five pillars of cooperation: trade and investment, energy relations, overseas employment, defense and security ties, and cultural interaction.

May 09, 2017
India's Balancing Act in the Gulf
Stanly Johny
This essay discusses India's increasingly extensive relations with the Gulf Arab countries and its equally important interest in continuing to develop mutually beneficial ties with Iran. The author argues that as India’s regional profile rises and its economic prowess expands, New Delhi will come under pressure to take sides — pressure to which Indian leaders must try their utmost not to succumb.

May 16, 2017
The India-U.A.E. Strategic Partnership in Regional Context: A Zero-Sum Game?
Mohammed Sinan Siyech
Since the government of Narendra Modi took office in 2014, India and the U.A.E. have moved relatively quickly to consolidate their existing ties and to explore new areas of cooperation. During this time, they have elevated the relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, with the expressed intention of extending their cooperation to the security and defense spheres. This essay discusses these recent developments, with particular attention to the role of Pakistan as a constraining factor in India-U.A.E. relations going forward.

Jul 27, 2017
India's Middle Eastern Naval Diplomacy
Abhijit Singh
This essay examines India’s recent naval diplomatic forays in the Middle East within the broader context of its strategy to strengthen maritime cooperation across the Asian littorals. The essay describes the activities comprising India’s expanding naval operations in the Arabian Sea and maritime cooperation with the G.C.C. states and with Iran, and discusses the strategic imperatives that are driving these efforts, as well as the limits to India’s raising its security profile. 

Sep 26, 2017
Think West to Go West: Origins and Implications of India’s West Asia policy Under Modi (Part I)
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Prime Minister Modi’s 2015 visit to the U.A.E. and subsequent events have seen India’s view of the region undergo a fundamental shift. This essay, the first of two parts, shows how New Delhi has come to regard the Gulf more as a source of investment and less as a source of energy and visas; and has begun to take a more strategic and military view of the region.

Oct 24, 2017 
Think West to Go West: Origins and Implications of India’s West Asia Policy Under Modi (Part II)
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
The first part of this article outlined how the newly-elected Narendra Modi government had no sense of where West Asia, including the Persian Gulf, fit into its larger foreign policy. However, this view changed radically following overtures from the Abu Dhabi royal family and the August 2015 state visit by Prime Minister Modi to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). This second part details how, since that visit, India's relations with West Asia, and particularly with the Gulf monarchies and Iran, have evolved.

 

 


[1] C. Rajan Mohan, “India and the Balance of Power,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2006):

[2] See “Indians see India playing rising role on world stage,” Pew Research Center, September 15, 2016, accessed January 7, 2016, http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/09/19/india-and-modi-the-honeymoon-continu....

[3] Raymond Zhong, “India Will Be Fastest-Growing Economy for Coming Decade, Harvard Researchers Predict,” The Wall Street Journal, January 1, 2016, accessed January 7, 2017, http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2016/01/01/india-will-be-fastest-growing-economy-for-coming-decade-harvard-researchers-predict/; “India projected to grow 7.6% in 2017: UN report,” The Times of India, December 2, 2016, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/India-project... and Anjana Pasricha, “World Bank: India Demonetization Slowdown to be Short-lived,” VOA News, January 13, 2017, February 1, 2017, http://www.voanews.com/a/world-bank-india-demonetization-slowdown-to-be-....

[4] U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016: Year-End Update, 13, accessed January 8, 2017, http://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/2016-year-end-update.pdf.

[5] Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Prime Minister’s Office, “PM to Heads of Indian Missions,” February 5, 2015, accessed January 8, 2016, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=115241.

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of India, “IISS Fullerton Lecture by Dr. S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary in Singapore,” July 20, 2015, accessed January 8, 2016, http://mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/25493/IISS_Fullerton_Lectu....

[7] See, for example, Ashley J. Tellis, “india as a Leading Power,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 4, 2016, accessed January 8, 2016, http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/04/04/india-as-leading-power-pub-63185.

[8] See, for example, Harsh Pant, “Under Modi, India Challenges Old Assumptions,” YaleGlobal Online, March 12, 2015, accessed January 8, 2017, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/under-modi-india-challenges-old-assum...

[9] See, for example, Tanvi Madan, “Why is India’s Modi visiting Saudi Arabia?” Brookings Institution, April 1, 2016, accessed January 8, 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2016/04/01/why-is-indias-modi-visi....

[10] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of India, “IISS Fullerton Lecture by Dr. S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary in Singapore.”